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Can You Hike In Jeans? Should You?

Most people’s wardrobes will feature at least one pair of jeans. This classic, practical item of clothing is durable, comfortable, and relatively inexpensive. For these reasons, it’s easy to see why they are so popular for everyday wear, and why many may wonder if you can hike in jeans.

You can hike in jeans, but it’s not recommended. There are more suitable options such as lightweight hiking pants or hiking shorts. Jeans absorb water and don’t have moisture wicking properties, which can result in a potentially dangerous loss of body heat when temperatures drop.

In days gone by, hikers would wear jeans because of their durability and lack of suitable alternatives. However, with modern synthetic materials there are better fabrics than denim for hiking. Below, we will discuss whether you can hike in jeans and the pros and cons of hiking in denim.

Should You Wear Jeans On A Hike?

You should avoid wearing jeans on a hike where possible, particularly on long hikes and when the weather is forecast to be wet or cold. Denim is a thick weave cotton fabric that is highly water absorbent. Jeans are also not very breathable and will not wick moisture away when you sweat.

The upshot of all this is that once jeans get wet, they stay wet. Anyone who has worn wet jeans in slightly cool conditions knows your legs can soon start to feel cold. In cold and windy conditions, the loss of body heat resulting from wet jeans can turn from uncomfortable to potentially dangerous.

That’s bad news for cold hikes, but you may think this cooling effect will prove useful on summer hikes. Unfortunately, temperatures can drop during the late afternoon, especially on higher-elevation trails. Without moisture wicking properties, moisture trapped in the denim from sweating can see you lose important body heat.

Denim Is Heavy

Not only do wet jeans make you more vulnerable to the cold, water will also make an already heavy fabric even heavier. This can result in unpleasant chafing and blistering. You may have brought a change of pants with you, but you will still have a heavy pair of jeans to carry for the rest of your hike.

However, some hikers still prefer to hike in jeans, and that is a personal preference to be respected. Indeed, on short hikes or nature walks, a pair of jeans will no doubt be fine, so long as dry weather is set for the day and you don’t have any water crossings where the jeans can become wet. In such conditions, a day hike on an easy trail will most likely prove comfortable wearing jeans.

Are Jeans Good For Hiking?

Jeans were once a choice of pants for many hikers until new synthetic materials such as nylon became more widespread. Therefore, it stands to reason jeans have some properties that made them attractive to hikers at that time. What were some of those properties?

The primary factor is jeans are a durable and practical clothing item. There is a reason why they are so widely worn in work settings such as on construction sites. They are durable becausedenim is thicker and stiffer than other types of material made from cotton.

When hiking, jeans are resistant to abrasion andtherefore able to withstand the rigours of the trail, allowing them to handle the occasional encounter with thorns and bushes.

Watch Out For Water

However, the advantage of durability is offset by how much water denim can absorb, which is up to 27 times its weight. Therefore, before wearing jeans on a hike, every aspect of the hike and trail, including the weather forecast, needs to be assessed to evaluate their suitability.

It’s not just rain and snow that needs to be considered, but streams you may need to cross, puddles, and even wet long grass. All these will dampen your jeans, making them heavier and placing you at increased risk of a loss of body heat. A good-paced hike will see you sweat regardless of the temperature, but denim will not wick the moisture away.

In many areas, the best times to hike in jeans are in the spring and fall if jeans are your only realistic option. Temperatures are generally milder during these seasons, neither too hot nor too cold. However, you are still likely to sweat, which can make your jeans damp and make you more susceptible to body heat loss if the conditions take a turn for the worse.

Is It Safe To Go Hiking In Jeans?

It is safe to go hiking in jeans in most cases. Jeans offer the same protective elements as long hiking pants, helping to better protect your legs and knees from scrapes caused by rocks and stones, and from insect bites. Wearing wet jeans in the cold however can put you at risk of hypothermia.

There is a danger from wearing jeans on long hikes when they have become wet. Once denim becomes wet it takes time to dry, and you can lose body heat from the wind or cold temperatures. In the extreme case, you can be at risk from hypothermia if you are unable to change into dry pants and stop the loss of body heat.

Know The Conditions

Of course, nobody is saying don’t head out for a short hike just because your only choice is to wear jeans. You just need to be sensible and be aware of the conditions. You certainly don’t want to head out if consistent rain is forecast, but if the odd light shower is in the cards, or conditions are a little on the cool side, you can take a few precautions:

  • Pack a decent coat or covering such as a poncho, which is light to carry and can protect you from showers
  • Stick to well-worn trails and avoid areas where you can get your jeans wet, such as large puddles and stream crossings.
  • If you like a rest during a hike, take a small towel to sit on to prevent a wet backside
  • If you are hiking for a long period of time or are including an overnight camp, take a spare pair of pants to change in to when required.

These precautions may sound a little obvious, but we can all sometimes overlook the obvious when excited at the prospect of a hike in beautiful scenery. Preparation is key for any successful hike, and these are just a few additional tips if you prefer hiking in jeans.

Pros Of Hiking In Jeans

They’re Durable

Denim is a durable material, a fabric originally designed to be worn in the workplace and one that will stand up to the rigours of a hike. Jeans are resistant to abrasion on rocks, although like many fabrics, once penetrated they can then rip easily. Jeans also offer protection against a range of nasties, including biting insects and dangerous vegetation.

Jeans Are Comfortable

People like their jeans because they are comfortable once they are worn in. Comfortable clothing when hiking is important, and a trusty pair of old jeans can have appeal. A worn-in pair of jeans just seems like an obvious choice to many people for a comfortable hike.

They’re Fairly Inexpensive

Like most fashion wear, you can pay through the roof for a top end pair of jeans. However, a good pair of basic, practical jeans remain fairly inexpensive and will cost less than a pair of specialized hiking pants. Chances are, you have several pairs already.

They’re Accessible

Most people will have jeans in their wardrobe without having to go out and spend additional money on new hiking pants. You can also walk into almost any clothing store to try on and buy jeans, whereas you may need to travel further afield to find a store selling specialized hiking gear and clothing.

Cons Of Hiking In Jeans

They Hold Water

Denim holds water, absorbing rain and any water from puddles, streams, and long grass, as well as trapping moisture from sweat. In cold temperatures or in a cold wind you can lose body heat quickly when wearing wet jeans. Without access to a change of pants or to heat, you are at increased risk of hypothermia on long hikes.

Jeans Stay Wet

Denim can take a long time to dry naturally, so unless you have packed a change of clothing, you are left with wet jeans for the duration of the hike. Wet denim can also feel heavy and sap your energy more quickly than if you chose to wear hiking pants or shorts.

They Have No Moisture Wicking Properties

Hiking is a physical activity, and even in cool temperatures you will tend to sweat. Denim does not wick moisture away, leaving sweat trapped within the material. On long hikes, your jeans can become as saturated with sweat as if you had hiked through a rainstorm or crossed a stream.

You Risk Chafing And Blistering

Denim is a thick, stiff cotton weave that can lead to chafing when damp from sweat or rain. Chafing can result in blisters, one of the things hikers dread most. As well as the discomfort blisters brings when walking, they can lead to an infection if the skin is broken.

They’re Not Always Comfortable

While many people like jeans because they find them comfortable, there are also those who feel the opposite. The thicker, stiff denim fabric is not to everyone’s taste, and some people feel it can weigh them down and limit the range of motion on more uneven terrain.

Jeans vs Hiking Pants

Hiking pants are lightweight and water repellent, designed specifically with trails in mind. Some hiking pants can even be converted into shorts on warm days. This is a nice detail, but how do hiking pants shape up against jeans on the main features?

Durability

Jeans are a good, hardy garment, anddurability is one of their biggest assets. Hiking pants are also good at protecting your legs, although you may want an extra durable pair on more rugged trails.

Water Resistance

Hiking pants are designed to be water repellent and will dry quickly, whereas jeans absorb water and dry slowly, losing their insulation properties. Without insulation, you will lose body heat in colder temperatures.

Breathability

Hiking pants are made from synthetic materials and are more breathable. Jeans aren’t as breathable in warm conditions, and as sweat gets trapped, the thicker, more abrasive denim may cause chafing once the material rubs against the skin.

Price

A basic, but still decent, pair of jeans costs less than a pair of hiking pants. While you can easily find jeans under $50, hiking pants can start at that price and range into the hundreds.

Comfort

Both hiking pants and jeans offer comfort to most wearers. However, jeans can feel constrictive and reduce your range of motion on hilly terrain and on trails with rocky slopes and other obstacles.

Weight

Hiking pants are lightweight, while the thickerdenim is a heavier material. The weight difference may seem negligible at first, but it can make a difference over the course of a long hike. The weight is magnified when jeans become wet.

Final Thoughts

You can hike in jeans and people have done so for many years. However, there are now more suitable items of clothing for hiking than jeans. While jeans may still be fine for short hikes on days where the weather is set fine, hiking pants are a more suitable option for most hiking trips.